The tale of the unlikely friendship between naïve Texas gigolo Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and frail Bronx con man Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), "Midnight Cowboy" was initially considered so risqué that it's the only X-rated movie ever to win the Academy's top prize (though after it won, the ratings board reconsidered and gave the film an R). Still, the film featured two lead performances and a few individual scenes that were so iconic that homages (and parodies) have popped up virtually everywhere. (Most often imitated is the scene where Ratso, limping across a busy Manhattan street, is nearly flattened by a taxi and shouts at the driver, "I'm walkin' here!") Plus, "Midnight Cowboy" launched the careers of several film artists, many of whom are still flourishing today.
So here is a list, from A to Z, that attests to the movie's ongoing influence after all these years.
"The Amazing Spider-Man." In the 2012 comic-book adaptation, webslinger Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) swoops through the canyons of Manhattan, shouting, "I'm swingin' here!"
"Back to the Future Part II." By the year 2015, there's so much traffic in Hill Valley that Marty McFly Jr. (Michael J. Fox) finds himself shouting, "I'm walkin' here!" at a futuristic vehicle.
Bob Balaban. The actor made his film debut as the closeted student who hires Joe for a furtive encounter in a Times Square movie theater. He's since gone on to a distinguished career as a character actor (he's a regular in Christopher Guest's comedies), director, and producer (he produced "Gosford Park" and appears in it as a Hollywood producer). His uncle, Barney Balaban, once ran Paramount Pictures and was an architect of the McCarthy-era blacklist that derailed the careers of many filmmakers, including "Midnight Cowboy" screenwriter Waldo Salt.
"The Blacklist." Given the role of the Hollywood blacklist in Salt's life, it's ironic that the current NBC thriller series (which has nothing to do with McCarthyism) featured in a 2014 episode a thug character known as "Midnight Cowboy."
"Borat." The 2006 comedy smash included a sequence where Sacha Baron Cohen's naïve outsider walks the streets of Manhattan to the sounds of Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'," just like Joe Buck.
"The Boys in the Band." William Friedkin's 1970 movie about a group of gay friends in Manhattan was one of the first films to take advantage of the freedoms afforded by the envelope-pushing content of "Midnight Cowboy." One character rents his friend a hustler and refers to the gigolo as a "midnight cowboy."
"Forrest Gump." The 1994 film contains the most famous of all "Midnight Cowboy" homages, in a scene set around the time of "Midnight Cowboy"'s release, as Gary Sinise's legless Lt. Dan apes the "I'm walkin' here" shot while trying to cross a New York street, as Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'" plays on the soundtrack.
"The Freshman." The first few minutes of the film, in which Matthew Broderick's Manhattan newbie is hustled out of his savings, only to meet the thief (Bruno Kirby) on the street and then become hopelessly entangled in his mischief, echoes Joe Buck's arrival in New York and his early encounters with Ratso.
Gay cinema. Director John Schlesinger was openly gay (at least within the film industry), and he carefully crafted "Midnight Cowboy" to appeal to both a gay audience starved for images of itself and a mainstream audience that could recognize humanity even in such marginalized characters. The film kicked open a closet door that allowed other filmmakers to explore more directly themes of gay identity, from "The Boys in the Band" to "Brokeback Mountain" and beyond. It also allowed future openly gay directors (including Gus Van Sant, Todd Haynes, and Bill Condon) to work both sides of the street, making mainstream Hollywood films as well as films about the gay experience.
"Glee." On the Fox high-school-musical series, a character referred to blond Sam as "Midnight Cowboy."
Jerome Hellman. Hellman was nearly penniless and had been abandoned by his wife and kids when Schlesinger hired him to produce "Midnight Cowboy." After he claimed the movie's Best Picture trophy on Oscar night in 1970, Hellman was suddenly an A-lister. He only produced a few more movies, including Schlesinger's "The Day of the Locust," Voight's smash "Coming Home, " and Harrison Ford's acclaimed "The Mosquito Coast."
Dustin Hoffman. Not wanting to be typecast after his star-making role as preppy Benjamin Braddock in "The Graduate," Hoffman proved his versatility by playing the scruffy, streetwise Ratso and earned an Oscar nomination in the process. Seven years later, Hoffman reunited with Schlesinger to star in another gritty New York drama, the hit "Marathon Man." Of course, he's continued to prove his chameleon-like skills in lead and character parts to this day, earning two Oscars along the way, but Ratso remains an iconic role in his career and one that helped put him on the map.
Adam Holender. The Polish immigrant, recommended to Schlesinger by Roman Polanski, made his big-screen debut as cinematographer on "Midnight Cowboy." Shooting with an outsider's point of view that suited the characters, Holender created a gritty and garish depiction of New York that influenced films for the next quarter-century, including some others that he shot, from 1971's "Panic in Needle Park," to 1995's "Smoke."
"Lost." Among the many flashback scenes in the landmark ABC sci-fi series are two featuring characters emulating the "I'm walkin' here" scene: Sawyer (Josh Holloway) and Arzt (Daniel Roebuck).
Sylvia Miles. Miles, who is a real-life New York character and something of an institution at 81, appeared in the film as Cass, who out-hustles Joe when she becomes his first pick-up. She was on screen for only about five minutes, but that was enough to earn her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. She'd earn another for 1975's "Farewell, My Lovely" and went on to make memorable appearances in "Crossing Delancey" (as the matchmaker) and the two "Wall Street" films (as the realtor).
The Muppets. The streetwise, Bronx-accented character Rizzo the Rat, who appears in various Muppet films, has a name that's a punning twist on Ratso Rizzo.
"Mystery Science Theater 3000." During several bad movies watched over the course of the series, scenes with film characters walking down urban streets or trying to cross against traffic would inspire Joel, Mike, or one of the robots to start singing "Everybody's Talkin'," or to shout variations on "I'm walkin' here!"
Harry Nilsson. Nilsson was working as a bank teller when the "Midnight Cowboy" filmmakers found his demo tape and used his rendition of Fred Neil's ballad "Everybody's Talkin'" throughout the movie. The song became a big hit and launched Nilsson's career as one of the most beloved singer-songwriters of the 1970s.
"Northern Exposure." A dream sequence from this 1990s CBS comedy series shows aspiring filmmaker Ed's (Darren Burrows) imagining New Yorker Joel (Rob Morrow) and Southerner Chris (John Corbett) costumed as Ratso and Joe and re-enacting the "I'm walkin' here" scene.
Other kiddie entertainment. Besides the Muppets, several other children's movies and TV shows pay tribute to "Midnight Cowboy," usually by parodying the "I'm walkin' here" scene. Among them are Disney's cartoon "Hercules," DreamWorks' "The Madagascar Penguins in A Christmas Caper" and "Shrek the Third" (where the vehicle is a carriage instead of a taxi), "Barbie Mariposa and Her Butterfly Fairy Friends" (one says, "I'm flying here!"), "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" (where Owen Wilson's buckaroo Jedediah refers to himself as a "midnight cowboy"), "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic" (one horse says the line after nearly colliding with another), and "Pound Puppies: King of the Heap."
"Repo Man." Miller's (Tracey Walter) line, "John Wayne was a fag" recalls Joe and Ratso's argument over whether Joe's garish cowboy suit makes him more of a sexual fantasy object to women or men. Ratso says the Western-wear makes Joe look like a "fag," to which Joe retorts that John Wayne dresses like that, adding "John Wayne! You wanna tell me he's a fag?" As it turned out, both Voight and Hoffman were nominated for Best Actor Oscars but lost to Wayne himself, who won his only Academy Award that year for "True Grit."
Jennifer Salt. The daughter of screenwriter Waldo Salt, she appears in flashbacks in "Midnight Cowboy" as Joe's ex-girlfriend. (In real life, she moved in with Voight off-screen as well.) She went on to appear in such classic 1970s movies as "Brewster McCloud" and "Sisters" before finding her greatest fame on TV's "Soap" as Eunice Tate." Later, she quit acting and, inspired by her father's example, took up writing for TV and movies. That second career has flourished in her collaborations with producer/director Ryan Murphy, which include the film "Eat Pray Love" (Salt and Murphy adapted Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir) and the hit FX series "Nip/Tuck" and "American Horror Story" (Salt served as a writer and producer on both shows).
Waldo Salt. Salt's screenwriting career began under an MGM contract in the 1930s, but his communist ties led to his being forced out of Hollywood during the blacklist of the 1950s. After a decade of writing for TV under a pseudonym, he began to write screenplays again. An unproduced script brought him to the attention of Hellman and Schlesinger, who hired him to adapt James Leo Herlihy's novel "Midnight Cowboy." The script would win Salt an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and put him back in demand. He was nominated for another Oscar for co-writing another gritty New York classic, "Serpico," and he won a second trophy for co-writing Vietnam homefront drama "Coming Home," which reunited him with Voight.
John Schlesinger. The British director who had helped make Julie Christie a star in "Darling" had fallen on hard times after his flop "Far From the Madding Crowd." He made his American debut with "Midnight Cowboy" and won an Oscar for directing it. He was nominated again for "Sunday Bloody Sunday" two years later. Over the next 30 years, he became best known for directing bleak dramas and gritty thrillers, including "The Day of the Locust" (which re-teamed him with Hellman and Waldo Salt), "Marathon Man" (which reunited him with Hoffman), "The Falcon and the Snowman," "Pacific Heights," and "Eye for an Eye." His last film, the Madonna-Rupert Everett collaboration "The Next Best Thing" (2000), wasn't a great film, but its matter-of-fact-ness about the Everett character's open gayness showed how much things had changed since "Midnight Cowboy" had helped kick open Hollywood's closet doors three decades earlier.
"Scuzzy." Salt's screenplay is thought to be the first use of the adjective, a combination of "scummy" and "fuzzy."
Sundance Film Festival. Since 1992, the indie-film event has named its top screenwriting prize after Waldo Salt. Winners have included such celebrated independent films as "The Waterdance," "Big Night," "High Art," "You Can Count on Me," "Memento," "The Station Agent," "The Squid and the Whale," and "Winter's Bone."
Brenda Vaccaro. Vaccaro launched her film career in 1969 with "Midnight Cowboy," playing Shirley, the wealthy client who meets Joe at a psychedelic party. The raspy-voiced character actress has since gone on to enjoy a long and varied career, including such films as "Once Is Not Enough" (for which she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination), "Airport '77," "Capricorn One," "Supergirl," and "The Mirror Has Two Faces." Her TV work includes "Friends," "The King of Queens," and cartoon "Johnny Bravo," where she was a regular as the voice of Bunny Bravo.
Jon Voight. An actor from the New York stage, where he and Hoffman had been competitive rivals, Voight was so desperate to star in "Midnight Cowboy" that he agreed to work for scale and earned only $17,500 for the role. Of course, the part of Joe Buck earned him an Oscar nod and launched his celebrated career, which has included such landmark films as "Deliverance," "Coming Home" (whose Waldo Salt screenplay helped him earn a Best Actor Oscar as a paraplegic Vietnam vet), "The Champ," "Runaway Train," "Heat," "Mission: Impossible," "Zoolander," "Ali" (where he played Howard Cosell), and "Transformers." For a while, he was better known for being Angelina Jolie's dad than for his own career, but this year, the 75-year-old scene-stealer won a Golden Globe for his recurring role as a dangerous family patriarch on Showtime's "Ray Donovan."
Viva. Born Janet Hoffman (no relation to Dustin), Viva was one of Andy Warhol's "superstars" and a regular performer in his often sexually explicit films. In "Midnight Cowboy," she plays Gretel McAlbertson, a photographer who invites Joe and Ratso to a party/art-happening very much like the ones Warhol used to throw at the Factory. In fact, many other Warhol regulars appear in the sequence, including Taylor Mead, Paul Morrissey, Ultra Violet, and International Velvet. The film brought some new notoriety to the Warhol scene and no doubt helped increase the mainstream receptivity to such avant-garde Warhol films as "Blue Movie" (in which Viva and Louis Waldon have sex on camera for about a fourth of the film's running time). She went on to appear in such mainstream movies as "Play It Again, Sam" and "Flash Gordon." Today, she's best known as the mother of actress Gaby Hoffman, who's gone from playing Kevin Costner's daughter in "Field of Dreams" to "Sleepless in Seattle" and a recurring role this season on HBO's "Girls."
"You've Got Mail." It's hard to imagine a portrayal of New York more different from "Midnight Cowboy" than Nora Ephron's 1998 e-mail comedy, which depicts Manhattan as a sunny, romantic playground for yuppies. Still, both films are filled with the music of Harry Nilsson, who sings four tracks on the "Mail" soundtrack. One of them, "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City," is a song Nilsson wrote specifically for "Midnight Cowboy," but the filmmakers rejected it in favor of his similar "Everybody's Talkin'."
Warren Zevon. The 22-year-old Zevon composed a tune called "He Quit Me," which Lesley Miller performed on the "Midnight Cowboy" soundtrack. It was one of the first career breaks for the singer-songwriter, who would hit it big over the next decade with hits like "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" and "Werewolves of London."
Wanna watch "Midnight Cowboy"? Do it now.